The Malta Independent 3 June 2020, Wednesday

To wander lonely as a cloud...

Charles Flores Sunday, 22 March 2020, 10:13 Last update: about 3 months ago

I am sure that by today most people have come to their senses and finally realised that the coronavirus malaise is real, is wreaking havoc on people, cities, nations and economies everywhere, and only full public cooperation, strict adhesion to medical advice and the proven wonders of science can eventually lead to some sort of suppression of this 21st century existential threat.

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There is no missing the heavy air inside and outside homes and the quick rush to all sorts of magic, quick-fix formulas as to how one is to help bring the crisis to a halt. No one should begrudge anyone’s personal way of soothing the fear and the pain of this whole situation. People’s jobs are in the balance, businesses may fold as contracts fall through and the medical and nursing professions are battling a nightmare of apocalyptic proportions as governments turn to urgent financial padding and delivering difficult updates to worried audiences.

Malta is fortunate in having had a government which, for the past seven years, wisely saved millions for – as ironic as it may sound, given the dry winter we’ve had – a rainy day. That this rainy day was to come in such a cataclysmic manner no one would have dared predict, but it has happened and the administrative wheels are turning, well-oiled, well-driven and well-functioning. Other governments elsewhere in Europe and beyond have had to dig much deeper into their debt ravines, alas, but when it comes to safeguarding people’s lives there really is no alternative.

We all have to admit to being slightly cynical when things first started to happen. The 70-plus generation was no exception. Nicknamed the Baby Boomers, we always tend to feel inclined to go against the grain, a declaration I am sure provokes guffaws among the oh-so-cautious, environment-friendly, vegan millennials. After all, the Baby Boomers were responsible for the socio-political revolution of the 60s and 70s. Perhaps that is why they have instantly been relegated to “disposable” status in the current calamity!

Forget the panicking, the stockpiling of hand sanitizers and toilet paper and the keeping away from the usual public places, it is still good to see people, of all ages, reacting positively to the whole social and economic panorama, in the sense that they have come out waving middle fingers at the coronavirus by making sure they followed constant medical and administrative instructions. Jokes and funny video clips fill the social media pages and there is an emerging sense of humour that can do marvels at a time like this. Historians with a psychological eye on past events have always partially credited the Allies’ victory in World War II to their sense of humour, a kind of self-deprecating candour which helped them survive in the worst of conditions.

I interpreted in pretty much the same way the self-isolating Italians’ wonderful rendition of bel canto and other music from the balconies at a time when everything seemed to be going wrong for them. The idea quickly caught on, giving concerned people everywhere a chance to sing when they felt more like crying. Our own troubadour, Tony Camilleri l-Għannej, took his self-isolation to the balcony with an impromptu version of Viva Malta that, for many, offers a more rallying pitch than the beautiful sobriety of Dun Karm’s national anthem. And how wonderful was it last Tuesday evening to hear neighbourhoods across these Islands taking to their balconies and terraces to applaud the doctors, nurses and other health sector workers for the heroic struggle they are mounting with such dedication and conviction.

Besides the innate need to write, my own peace of mind at this moment in time at first came from taking long, solitary walks social distancing, in a way, which not always worked, however. I ended up vaguely doctoring poor old William Wordsworth’s first stanza from our English-lesson schooldays favourite, Daffodils, as groups of people, mostly chortling foreign young men and women, walked past oblivious to the fact that our lifestyle has changed so dramatically almost overnight:

I wandered lonely as a cloud

That floats on high o’er vales and hills,

When all at once I saw a crowd,

A host, of foreign “infidels”;

Beside the sea, beneath the trees,

Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Does a septuagenarian now have to stop taking these walks as he cites poems of loneliness and solitude to himself, I wonder? Rather than asking 70-plus citizens to stay indoors, perhaps the instructions should have been for all the rest to do so while THEY walked the vacant streets of their villages and towns to keep rusting, old joints in good enough condition.

Empty thoughts, I know, but certainly not as bad as the menace of “herd immunity” millions of Britons had been dreading after the term was first uttered by way of offering a quick solution to coronavirus. In the end, every nation has had to stop, re-think and change strategies.

 

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How it should be?

When humanity comes face to face with nature’s more bitter realities or its self-imposed tribulations such as wars, ideologies and racist face-offs, it always finds it worthwhile to change old habits for the better.

Coronavirus has given the Maltese public transport buses with only seated passengers on board. Kudos to Malta Public Transport, but can we keep that? One of the things that put many people, the elderly in particular, off pre-coronavirus buses was the inevitable need to wrestle and scuffle their way into overloaded vehicles.

I know what I’m suggesting may not make economic sense, but there was also a time when nobody in hot-climate Malta thought buses could be air-conditioned. They are today. And do you remember the old bangers with their bare-chested drivers and conductors with arm-pit emissions that kill? They’re all gone, including Austin Gatt’s more recent bendy ones.

If seated-only is not an option for when or if ever the coronavirus predicament is over, can the legal standing limit at least be meticulously applied, one day?

 

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